A report commissioned by the Health Department has recommended the government “investigate alternative models” to the highly criticised COVIDSafe app.
The 86-page report examined privacy issues that might arise from using the contact-tracing app but did not find “any additional privacy risks that are likely to significantly adversely affect users”.
Among the 11 recommendations is a call for the Department of Health and the Digital Transformation Agency to “investigate alternative models to, and any new technologies relevant to, the app”.
The departments were asked to “examine whether those alternative models or new technologies would offer users enhanced privacy protections”, while “noting the already strong privacy protections afforded by Australia’s legislative framework.”
Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler said it had been “a complete waste of taxpayers’ money”, costing more than $6 million in development. Almost $7 million was spent on advertising and Senate estimates was told it cost $100,000 a month to run.
“After spruiking it for months, the Prime Minister now barely acknowledges its existence,” Mr Butler said.
“Once again states filled the gap the Morrison government left with their own QR check-in codes.”
Digital Transformation Agency head Randall Brugeaud did not rule out the app being discontinued but said it was a matter for the Department of Health and the AHPPC.
In April 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison labelled COVIDSafe a “ticket to freedom” and “sunscreen equivalent”.
The Health Department and the Digital Transformation Agency have been examining an alternative model in widespread use internationally based on tools offered by Apple and Google for their smartphone platforms.
But the government has been concerned about privacy issues associated with that model.
In September last year, then Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said the government “will not outsource our responsibilities to large multinationals”.
“The government will not be moving away from our sovereignty,” he said.
In a statement to 9News, the Department of Health said it “commissioned Maddocks to undertake this update to the COVIDSafe Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA), to take account of changes since the original PIA which was published on 25 April 2020.”
“The Department is continually looking for ways to improve contact tracing to support our public health workers,” it said.
The report did not recommend the app be discontinued, instead urging the government to “assess whether the app can and should be further updated or changed to ensure that users have the best possible privacy protections available given Australia’s legislative framework”.